Three Duets On Gerry Hemingway’s Auricle


The impressions immediately materializing since the very first listen of this beautifully unpretentious album are clear. For starters, the conspicuous sense of spiritual empathy between players who find themselves with eyes closed, systematically drawing instant charts as they choose the proper dynamic nuances when the music’s flow indicates a new route. Second, and perhaps most important, is the remarkable morphing of the different instrumental personalities into a single entity comprising two souls. Kim’s komungo – both in the acoustic and electric version – is a tool which, mainly designed for melody, nevertheless owns unmistakable percussive qualities, pretty evident in the way in which the strings must be energetically plucked during certain animated transactions. On the other hand, Hemingway’s drumming receptiveness lets us envision a whole world of lyrical intuitions, which he adapts to the Korean partner’s enchanting patterns and swirls by fusing his improvising self with her unique blend of Eastern tints and concentrated transmissions of energy. This amalgamation of inventive currents, instantaneous acceptance and clever elaboration of the result, appearing as natural as dribbling water on a spring’s rock, leaves any academic issue out of the equation. Every minute of this CD is at one and the same time perfectly graspable yet rich in meaningfulness and non-conformism.


Simply put, one of the sharpest drums + guitar duets heard in these headquarters, here analyzed on a piece-by-piece basis. I tried to cobble useful descriptive words, jotting down written responses to the sounds.
“The Night Ocean”. Instant in-your-face approach, creation of a playground for the liberation of energies. Closely miked skins and cymbals at the forefront of Hemingway’s palette, McManus turning the initial distorted drone into clean picking that grows increasingly agitated, still maintaining legroom for the pair to stretch and stray. Stillness falls upon a combination of feedback and hiss.
“The Constants”. GH’s brushing across TM’s toneless utterances, rising tension, new components weighing in. Piercing and jarring timbres from an axe that battles for the loss of its identity, mainly successfully. Sturdy pulling of strings, the drumming becomes progressively nervous and muscular, then thing quieten up.
“The Glass Lake”. More unusual research around the dirtier types of acoustic resonance, beautiful cymbal job to create a background on the rarefied spikes thrown by TM, who seems to be looking for a synthesis between Derek Bailey and a slightly sweeter radicalism imbued with snippets of thematic thoughts and unwelcoming clusters.
“The Rush To Get There”. Additional angularity spiced by swells reminiscent of early Bill Frisell, but with a harsher edge; GH listens and acts through the immediate release of flurrying bursts punctuated – again – by a superbly resounding snare. He’s in “let-it-go” mode, yet ever ready to remain in charge of the overall drive; patient listener and macho at once. Stimulating fragments generated by TM’s smart processing seal the track, GH tapping on the toms until silence is reached.
“The Dry Land”. Grating noises, whispers and wordless vocalizations, escalating into clattering-cum-supplementary glossolalia. This might belong in the “ritualistic” area of improvisation without any strain. Lots of breaks, the ears “want to know”. Enigmatic stuff devoid of actual openings, giving an idea of barely contained virulence.
“The Disturbance”. Free-jazz gears, pungent staccato, convulsive glomerations and close intervals. Strapping percussiveness on both extremes, TM apparently interested in complementing GH’s rattling liveliness rather than pursuing a mental picture. When distortion kicks in, we’re back to square one. Potent music, enlivening, pitiless in a way; no concessions whatsoever. It ends with a fight where each tries to decapitate the other with single shots, or just get the nod with economical combinations. Nobody wins.
“The Amber Field”. Mini-pitches emitted via slanted-plectrum-on-fretboard techniques complemented by an intricately dexterous work on the drum set, inexorably growing in terms of rate of recurrence of the sonic events. Cultivated edginess, the pace becoming almost frenetic at halfway point, irregular rolls accompanying slashing chords and overdriven scars. Uncompromising till the last second, the couple slaps and rips the smiley, suntanned conventions of archetypal jazz duos to confirm that we always need danger and restlessness to move forward.


The dialogue between Eskelin (on tenor sax) and Hemingway begins with a moody encounter – “Motion And Thought” – tinged with “noir-jazz” hues, two old inhabitants of the same building coming back to their native neighbourhood, sincerely embracing then talking amiably of the past. The conversation’s intelligibility is facilitated by the magnification of the smaller details caused by a magnificent recording quality, warm-sounding and close to the core of the instruments. “Stillness And Flow” pairs bowed cymbals and sinuous figurations, emphasizing the nuances of the air flowing through the mouth/tube connection in a blend of severity, physicality and abstraction. “Sustain And Footwork” follows a slightly different path, juxtaposing the ringing traits and the elasticity of Hemingway’s percussive legerdemain and Eskelin’s attempts to rationalize his explorations of territories where timid wafting and cluttered outbreaks reside, still maintaining an expositive clarity that lets everybody in at last. While “Deft And Bounce” is a briskly swinging duet exalting the duo’s nimbleness and – in a way – lyricism, “Shaken And Spill” leaves a greater number of open doors and larger spaces, relaxation and improvisational nosiness walking hand in hand during hardly predictable snapshots culminating in a series of assertive flare-ups. “Stars And Treetops” closes the CD with a ceremonial aura of sorts: repetitive patterns, metallic gradations and semiconscious meandering around hypothetical tonal centres unite in rewarding fashion.


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